You’d be hard-pressed to find a sport that relies more on team play than football, so it says a lot that conversations about a team’s worth and its championship chances often revert toward one position: quarterback.
With the NFL’s ever-evolving rulebook, there’s become even more of an emphasis on the passing game in recent years. So when you look at the quarterbacks of recent Super Bowl winners, it should come as no surprise that they’re among the best QBs in the game right now: Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, Joe Flacco, Eli Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, etc.
Which brings us to the 2015 playoffs. This season, more than any in recent history, features a playoff field full of question marks under center. So in order to handicap the playoff field, why don’t we break down and rank the quarterback situations of those 12 teams remaining, shall we?
12. Brian Hoyer, Houston Texans: Hoyer actually had a pretty decent season — when he could stay on the field. A late-season concussion, though, took him off the gridiron for a few weeks. Hoyer’s spot at the bottom of this list isn’t totally about him, either. When you consider he’s one big hit to the head away from Brandon Weeden taking over, this says just as much about the Texans’ quarterback situation as a whole as it does about Hoyer.
11. A.J. McCarron/Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals: Speaking of dicey quarterback situations, trying to get a read on the Bengals isn’t easy. If Andy Dalton was healthy, he’d obviously a little higher on this list, but he’s still dealing with a thumb injury. Even if Dalton gets cleared for their wild-card round game with Pittsburgh, he probably won’t be 100 percent, and a throwing hand thumb is essential to throwing a football. As for McCarron, he’s OK, sure, completing 63 percent of his passes with three touchdowns and no interceptions in the final two weeks. Still, this isn’t the SEC.
10. Teddy Bridgewater, Minnesota Vikings: The Vikings won 11 games this season, and you could make the argument maybe one or two of those were won primarily by Bridgewater’s play. He’s fine for what the Vikings want to do, which is to run the ball efficiently with Adrian Peterson and play good defense. But his left-handed interception (he’s right-handed, mind you) against Green Bay in Week 17 is a reminder that he’s still going to make some bad mistakes. You also can’t be crazy about the wild-card round matchup after Seattle held Bridgewater to 118 passing yards and an interception in the Vikings’ 38-7 loss to Seattle in Week 13.
9. Kirk Cousins, Washington Redskins: Cousins threw two picks in a Week 6 loss to the Jets. In the 10 games that followed, he posted a 119.1 passer rating with 23 touchdown passes to just three interceptions. In his final three regular-season games, he threw 11 touchdown passes and no interceptions. He’s arguably the hottest guy in the league right now. But are we crazy for wondering whether he might revert to early-season Cousins — who had four multi-pick games in the first six weeks — when the lights shine bright? Maybe. Maybe not.
8. Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs: Smith is what he is. An average, middle-of-the-road quarterback who won’t win you many games by himself, but he won’t lose many either. Basically, he’s the perfect guy for this Chiefs team, which comes into the playoffs riding a 10-game winning streak. Smith’s ability to protect the football — his 1.4 percent interception rate over the last three seasons is better than Tom Brady’s — is a big reason KC finished the season with the NFL’s second-best turnover margin.
7. Peyton Manning/Brock Osweiler, Denver Broncos: Gary Kubiak won’t say who his quarterback will be in two weeks, so like the Bengals situation this one’s tough to judge. You’ve got to think it will be Manning, though, after he came off the bench and played well enough to get a win in Week 17. That being said, he’s got that whole pant-pooping-in-the-playoffs thing going on, and Brock Osweiler has as many postseason snaps as you and I.
6. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers: Roethlisberger, when he’s at his best, is one of the three or four best quarterbacks in the league. Thing is, he hasn’t been at his best to end the season. The Steelers QB competed 70 percent of his passes over the final three games, sure, but he also threw six interceptions. There’s all kinds of pressure on him right now, too, after DeAngelo Williams hurt his ankle in Week 17 and with Martavis Bryant seemingly in witness protection at the moment. Still, Roethlisberger could just throw 40 passes in the direction of Antonio Brown and still be pretty successful.
5. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers: All things being equal and everyone playing at their best, Rodgers is the No. 1 guy. Things are far from equal, though, and Rodgers is far from playing his best football. The Packers are an absolute tire fire right now. Their offensive line is in shambles. Their receivers haven’t been able to get open for just about the entire season. The play-calling needs the “Ask Madden” button in the worst way. Maybe that’s all in Rodgers’ head or whatever, but he’s been really bad down the stretch. When he does get time and receivers do get open, he often misses. It’s bad. But he’s still at No. 5 because there’s that sliver of a chance he and the Pack figure it out and get hot. Don’t count on it, though.
4. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks: If Cousins isn’t the hottest hand right now, it’s Wilson. He enters the playoffs having posted 132.8 passer rating with 24 touchdown passes and just one pick in his last seven games. That seems… good. If the Seahawks have Marshawn Lynch back, that’s even better news for Wilson, who can only benefit from a running game the defense must respect. The Hawks will have to do some damage on the road, which Wilson hasn’t had to do much in his postseason career, but his career home/road splits are basically identical.
3. Carson Palmer, Arizona Cardinals: Palmer is one of the fascinating storylines of this postseason. He’s playing some of the best football of his career on arguably the best team he’s ever been a part of. But he doesn’t have a lot of playoff experience. His knee was shredded on his first career postseason throw all the way back in 2005 and he lost his second career playoff start in 2009 with the Bengals, completing just 50 percent of his passes and throwing an interception. But that was then, this is now, and he’s got no shortage of weapons. Larry Fitzgerald, John Brown and Michael Floyd might be the best wideout trio left, and the emergence of rookie running back David Johnson is just another toy for Palmer.
2. Tom Brady, New England Patriots: After a summer of having his name dragged through the mud, Brady gets his real shot at redemption now that the playoffs are here. And if that wasn’t enough motivation, some are wondering whether Brady and the Patriots have another deep run in them after New England lost four of its last six games to end the season. But here’s the thing: Brady’s still the best in the game when in the NFL’s second season. Furthermore, the assumed return of Brady’s binky, Julian Edelman, should improve the Patriots’ offense in a big way. Do you really want to bet against this guy?
1. Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers: It’s just starting to feel more and more like Newton’s year, isn’t it? Expectations for the Panthers entering the 2015 season weren’t very high, especially after wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin (108 catches, 1,008 yards and nine touchdowns in 2014) went down for the season with an injury. That didn’t look to be a real issue for Newton, though, as he turned in the best season of his career and looks to be the MVP front-runner. He’s just got so many ways he can beat you. If you don’t keep him in the pocket, he’s going to take off and burn you with his legs. And when you do make him beat you in the pocket, well, he’s done just that. Oh, and don’t forget about his league-leading four game-winning drives in the regular season. Admittedly, he hasn’t done in the postseason to this point in his career, but he’s just playing so well it’s tough not to be optimistic.
Thumbnail photo via Benny Sieu/USA TODAY Sports Images
Powered by WordPress.com VIP